ARC Review: The Secret Bridesmaid

The Secret Bridesmaid was a surprise hit for me! It sounded like it could have been a book that was a bit too dramatic for my taste but I ended up really enjoying it and getting surprisingly emotional! If you want a light-hearted read set in the UK that doesn’t get too over the top, this is the book for you.

Star rating: 4 stars

Sophie Breeze is a professional bridesmaid – hired to take the pressure off of the bride without them giving control over to a wedding planner. A successful wedding leads to a former client recommending her to the mother of Lady Cordelia Swann, handing Sophie her biggest job yet. As Emily Taylor, she becomes Cordelia’s only bridesmaid, though Cordelia herself is less than impressed with the idea. Her time as Emily is filled with ridiculous requests, fending off bullies and trying to be a bridesmaid to someone who is just not interested, but can Emily crack Cordelia’s hard exterior to help her have the perfect wedding?

My favourite thing about this book was the dynamic between Sophie and Cordelia. Cordelia has been through a lot – some of it typical rich girl in the limelight stuff which was a bit cliché but I didn’t dislike it. Also the characters felt a bit on the young side for their age of 30ish. The bond between them develops perfectly throughout the book and I really enjoyed all of their interactions, which were part funny, part emotional. I don’t think Cordelia had ever had real friends before so it was kind of sweet to see her realise what that entailed.

The romance between Sophie and Cordelia’s brother Tom was a small part of the book – it was a little bit insta love and could have had more development, but I generally enjoyed it even if Tom only knew her as Emily. Again, predictable, but the kind of smushy that makes me smile.

Overall I actually had a really good time reading this book despite some of the friendship drama and predictable nature. It made me smile in all the right places and I even got a bit emotional. Definitely a good, fast read if you want a pick-me-up with love and humour.

ARC Review: The Witch’s Heart

I don’t know much about mythology but it didn’t take away from how much I loved this book. No, seriously, I read it in two chunks of reading that’s how gripped I was. This is a book for women, it’s so beautifully powerful. If you like retellings with gorgeous prose then you must pick up The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. (And it’s already out in the US, and is coming to the UK on 4th May).

Star rating: 5 stars

After being burned by Odin for not sharing the future with him, Angrboda flees to a far away forest. There she is discovered by Loki, and love blossoms between them. Together, they have 3 children all who are unique – Hel who has dead legs, Fenrir who is born a wold, and Jormungand who is born a snake. Each have their own roles to play in the future that Angrboda prophesises.

Motherhood is a strong theme as Angrboda raises her unusual children all the while Loki travels back and forth to Asgard where he has another wife and children. Some of the book’s most emotional moments for me involved Angrboda trying to hard to do best by her children while Loki causes nothing but trouble. The children’s’ stories are traumatic with some really dark, hard to read moments. Love and forgiveness also feature in all forms, between family, friends and lovers. Mostly I can say I was captivated by the strength of women in this story, whether it be from characters I liked or characters I disliked but empathised with. Skadi, who befriends Angrboda, is definitely my favourite though!

In terms of writing, one of Genevieve Gornichec’s strengths is in the dialogue. I found the interactions between the characters to be so engaging that the pages just flew by. I also really liked the pacing – the book really took its time to pack emotional punches while progressing the plot. There’s no doubt that this is an impressive piece of work.

Overall I can confidently say this is the best retelling I’ve ever read. It now has a place in my favourite books and I can’t wait to read what Genevieve Gornichec writes next because this one was sheer brilliance on paper.

ARC Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

I went into this book not really knowing what it was about and it blew my mind. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a science fiction novel set in a world where climate change and polluting the Earth has caused people to adapt, living in eco-cities with a whole range of interesting world-building features. At the centre is a compulsive story of two sisters that didn’t immediately draw me in but once gripped I could not stop reading.

Star rating: 4 stars

The story is told in two perspectives – sisters Celia and Kay. Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for 3 years alone with few memories and the goal to find her sister Kay. Kasey lives in one of 8 eco-cities built for the people who tried to protect the planet. She’s a STEM prodigy and prefers time to herself than being around others. Kasey is determined to find out the truth behind what happened to her popular, fun-loving sister and that forms the basis of the plot.

The world-building is exceptional and thought-provoking. Eco-cities protect their residents from the natural disasters that plague Earth, but in return the humans living there spend a third of their time in stasis – conducting activities virtually through holos. I really enjoyed the details from the holos to the resident ranking system, and the examination of rank privilege.

There is a lot of mystery in this book, with the world revealed slowly to the reader through the eyes of the characters. This can make it difficult to follow in the beginning, and I was a bit confused at times. Both Celia and Kay were compelling protagonists and I enjoyed figuring out the mysteries throughout the plot. Overall, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a unique science fiction novel with a lot of discussion points that would make it perfect for a book club read.

Will you be picking up Joan He’s latest novel? If you like books that you have to think about, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is perfect.

ARC Review: Sweethand

Sweethand was on my most anticipated romances books of 2021 – and I’m not going to lie, it was because of the gorgeous cover design (the dress! the cat!). It also appealed to me because it involved baking and music which I anticipated to be a great combination for a romance novel. Naturally, I wasn’t disappointed and really loved the characters in this book.

Star rating: 4 stars

So the beginning of the blurb sounds like this book is going to be full of drama, and don’t get me wrong there is some but it’s tasteful and doesn’t detract from the romance. Cherisse is a baker, recently coming off the back of a baking show that she dropped out of when it was leaked that her musician boyfriend was cheating on her. Now she’s baking the cakes for her sister’s wedding, and the pressure from her family to settle down herself couldn’t be greater.

Keiran is a producer that’s slowly making a name for himself with his coworker. Having also been burned by an ex, he’s in a similar position to Cherisse herself. The two are re-united after years apart as best man and maid of honour at the wedding – they only problem is that they hate each other!

I’m not always a fan of hate to love but I really liked Cherisse and Keiran together. I enjoyed them learning about each other – and that all their preconceptions about each other are completely wrong. It was also good to see them appreciate each other’s work more, given Keiran didn’t have much respect for Cherisse’s baking business at the beginning.

Another part of the book I loved was Cherisse and Keiran’s friends – both characters had good friends who cared about them. Cherisse’s cat Jell-O was also a little superstar. Keiran is also bisexual – I really appreciated a lead man who is bisexual because it’s something I don’t see very often in romance novels (or at all really).

Overall this was a fun read with lots of mouth-watering baking and great characters. It took me a little while to get into but then I was flying through it, eager to see if these two would finally get a grip. I will be very interested to see what other characters in the Island Bites series get books about them!

ARC Review: Dial A For Aunties

Dial A For Aunties is a romance with a twist. It’s dark humour, hilarious family dynamics and generally wild plot had me in stitches from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a book! Jesse Sutanto takes us on a ride in this book, and yes it is a bit silly! If you like dark humour and want some laugh out loud fun in your life then this is the book for you. I can’t help but give it the best of ratings as it brought me so much joy.

Star rating: 5 stars.

Meddy Chan is a wedding photographer at her family business along with her Ma and Aunties. As the blurb tells us, one night Meddy accidentally kills the man her Ma catfished (classic parent fakes being daughter on dating app style), and calls her family over for help. This initiates the rollercoaster ride that is this book. What will the family do with a dead body, especially when they’ve got a big wedding the next day? I guess you’ll have to read to find out.

I absolutely adored the family dynamics in this book. The majority of the plot is set over the course of the wedding day, which meant it flew by right to the end as the family end up in awkward situation after awkward situation. I enjoyed the barriers the family faced as they are essentially trilingual as Chinese-Indonesians living in America – with Meddy knowing English best and her family more comfortable with Mandarin. Meddy’s journey is also really good as she learns to balance her loyalty to the family with what she wants from life.

Meddy’s ex from college also returns to her life in an unexpected way. Meddy and Nathan are not the focus of the book but I enjoyed their romance all the same – we love a second chance romance like this one. It was also interesting to see how Meddy would handle her family meeting the ex she never introduced them to.

Overall this is a great comedy, though it does involve a dead body in various situations so if that’s not your kind of humour I’d probably avoid it. Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing throughout and I tend to have strange humour! I really adored the characters which helped make this book so gripping for me. Will definitely be reading more book by Jesse Sutanto in the future.

ARC Review: Accidentally Engaged

I absolutely love romances set around food so was ecstatic to get my hands on this book by Farah Heron. The book promised a blend of romance, family dynamics and food so I was super excited to get to know our protagonist and her love interest. Also, it has such a cute cover!

Star rating: 5 stars

The protagonist is Reena Manji, a single woman who isn’t enamoured with her job but has a passion for cooking and baking in her free time. Her family also makes up an important apart of the book – her Dad is a rich business man who wants her to work for the family business, her Mum just wants her to marry someone as soon as possible, and her sister Saira is suffering from a mental illness after a disaster relationship. Reena and Saira’s relationship is complicated, which the book definitely takes a dive in to.

The love interest is Nadim, a guy who just so happened to move across the corridor from Reena. Oh, and it turns out he works for her father and is expected to marry Reena. Both Reena and Nadim just want control over their own lives and find that they have a lot in common, especially their love of the food from their culture. So when Reena gets an opportunity to enter a cooking competition, but needs a partner to do it, she and Nadim pretend to be engaged.

My favourite things about this book were the family dynamics (equal parts emotional and hilarious), and the food. I was introduced to so many new foods throughout the book. I loved the plot centring around a competition that involved making videos, and how it showed Reena and her friends working together to create something really cute. Reena and Nadim had such natural chemistry throughout the book, and it was interesting to see how they overcame the challenges that family and culture threw at them.

Overall, a really fun romance (though the sex scenes are fade to black), where I really enjoyed learning a little about Indian/Tanzanian culture and food.

Will you be picking up Accidentally Engaged? It comes out next month!

ARC Review: A Pho Love Story

I haven’t really known what to expect from YA romance novels lately – they’ve been a bit disappointing. But A Pho Love Story by Loan Le gave me all the feels, honestly I felt like I had tears in my eyes for the last quarter of the book. If you want a book where you’ll care for all the characters, that has a deep, emotional plot, and will make you very, very hungry, then this is the story for you.

Star rating: 5 stars

The book has two points of view – the teenage kids of rival Vietnamese restaurant owners with businesses across the street from each other. Bao moves through life with no aims, assuming that he is destined for mediocrity. Linh has goals – she wants to be a painter, but her parents, Vietnamese immigrants, do not want her to have a hard life like they did and so disapprove.

Both characters had such strong stories and journeys that I couldn’t help but read this book in one sitting. Their parents both have different attitudes towards their kids, Bao’s just want him to have something, but Linh’s want her to have a secure career and life. One thing their parents do agree on is that they should avoid each other – and they often try to outcompete each other as restaurant owners. But is there more to these families than just being business rivals?

What captured me the most about this story was the family dynamics. Both Bao and Linh learn so much about their parents’ histories and it helps a reader see the disagreements from all perspectives. When Linh and Bao decide to put rivalry aside and get to know each other, as they tried to as young children, it really makes for a heart-warming story of growth, forgiveness, love and friendship.

With divine food descriptions (I really want to try Vietnamese food now), and a story I felt with every word, A Pho Love Story is not one to miss. It’s so much more than a love story, it’s the story of escaping war and wanting what is best for your kids, of realising they might not always be who you expected them to be and accepting it.

Will you be picking up A Pho Love Story? I truly believe this is a great book choice for teens and adults alike.

ARC Review: Malibu Rising

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s ability to create such rich, character driven stories made Malibu Rising one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. I’ve loved every book she’s ever written so I wasn’t even a bit nervous going into this. Again, she has created an emotional story with characters that just evoke all sorts of feelings in a reader – they all have detailed back stories and a million dimensions to them. Not to mention that Taylor manages this in a story that takes place over 24 hours (albeit with flashbacks included).

Star rating: 5 stars

If you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you’ll be familiar with Mick Riva, the overnight husband. This is not his story, but rather the story of the wife and four kids he abandoned multiple times.

Nina is the oldest, the responsible one, the one who does anything for her family including becoming a swimsuit model which isn’t exactly her thing. Jay is next, a talented up and coming surfer, followed around the world with his brother, Hud, an amazing photographer. Finally, there’s Kit, the youngest, always being looked after, never treated like a grown up even though she’s 20 now. Together, they are the Rivas, having made their own way despite their deadbeat superstar father who left them alone.

I was definitely drawn to the female characters in this story the most. Nina’s sense of responsibility was heart-breaking, Kit was so confused about who she wanted to be in life. We also get flashbacks about their mother, June, Mick’s first wife. Basically, Mick Riva can choke for what he did to his family, he evoked a lot of hatred from me!

Between the flashbacks and the activities of the present day, there is so much going on but it is also easy to follow. I cried at the end of this story of complex family dynamics. The tension builds all the way through to the stunning conclusion. There are also random insights into side characters’ lives that were a little odd – I’m still not sure how I feel about them but it didn’t take away from my love for this story.

Overall, another 10/10 for Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’m not sure it’s my favourite novel of hers, but it’s 5 stars all the same.

Have you read any Taylor Jenkins Reid? She is probably my favourite author.

ARC Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Talia gave us Chloe Brown’s book, then Dani’s. Now it’s youngest Brown sister Eve’s turn, and I was excited to get stuck in to the final book in one of my favourite romance series. This book is grumpy and sunshine at his best, Eve is probably the sister that I relate to the most, and it has neurodiversity representation.

Star rating: 5 stars

Eve can’t seem to stick with one career. She doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. Her latest attempt at wedding planning was fun but an incident with some doves leads to a bad review, putting an end to that one. Her parents are very frustrated and give her an ultimatum. Eve, furious, leaves the house and finds her way to a B&B – which happens to be looking for a new chef. Is it meant to be?

Jacob put his heart and soul into his B&B, but when his chef wins the lottery and leaves him stranded before a big event, he starts looking for a new one. Then Eve Brown walks into his life with her sunshine attitude. He thinks she’ll be an absolute disaster, but when an accident leaves him indisposed, he has little choice in the matter but to hire her…

Honestly, I loved the characters in this book so much – Eve in particular. I related to her struggles in passing her driving test, having to listen to music to concentrate, fear of failure and difficulty making friends. She also cares a lot about people and has a really strong empathetic nature. Jacob is also the perfect grumpy in the pairing – I loved his passion for the B&B, how he did so much to make his guests comfortable (even offering weighted blankets which was a nice touch). He’s also really comfortable with his autism diagnosis.

The romance is probably my favourite of the series! I love how considerate the characters are towards each other. Both characters get a point of view and I enjoyed both. The plot is also good – not too much drama which is always appreciated. It was good to have Chloe and Dani cameos too, I miss those two and now I want to re-read.

Overall, a perfect final book in this trilogy and probably my favourite overall. I was so happy that it also had autistic representation, especially in women. I wish their was a fourth Brown sister because I’m really not ready for this to be over!

Have you read any of the Brown sister books? I love them all, if you like adult romance you should definitely check them out.

ARC Review: Winter’s Orbit

This was a science-fiction romance novel that I didn’t know I needed. Everina Maxwell has created an excellent book with a rich military and political influence – I very much enjoyed the small details included. The romance is cute, the plot is fast-paced and intriguing and the characters are just out of this world.

Star rating: 5 stars

Kiem is the prince with a reputation for partying in causing trouble. He’s all over the news for his outrageous antics, but he uses his people and diplomacy skills to get himself out of trouble. One day, the Emperor, his grandmother, arranges a marriage for him to a representative from the planet Thea, in order to save a treaty. Jainan is the exact opposite of Kiem – he’s academic, socially awkward and quiet. He lost his previous husband and has to marry Kiem to save the treaty that keeps Thea part of the Iskat Empire. Will it be the case of opposites attract?

I really loved the way this book handled sexuality – each culture had their own way of expressing gender which was super cool. It was up to the people to choose what they expressed and nobody challenged it. The romance is also adorable – these two guys are absolute disasters but both of them are so cute in their own way.

The plot is very fast-paced and includes plenty of opportunities for Kiem and Jainan to showcase their unique skills. I loved how the characters supported each other’s differences. The side characters are also great – I particularly enjoyed Bel, who is Kiem’s personal aide. She was very no nonsense and definitely kept Kiem in check!

Overall this is a really heartwarming story, though it does contain some darker elements such as domestic abuse. I really liked the integration of military with politics, it made for a realistic alternative universe. Really happy I got approved for this arc, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good!